A New History of Jewish Food Covers Everything from Biblical Garlic to Crisco, Peanut Oil, and Hungarian Cholent

Dec. 28 2020

Reviewing Feasting and Fasting, a recently published collection of scholarly essays on Jewish food, Joel Haber concludes that while it “may not be the best collection of essays on Jewish food studies ever compiled, it works well as an introduction to the topic,” and includes “genuine food for thought . . . on specific topics.” Haber highlights some of the more compelling segments:

Jordan Rosenblum’s “A Brief History of Jews and Garlic” is as enlightening as it is concise. In a few short pages, he traces the Jewish love affair with garlic from its biblical roots (Numbers 11:4-6) through its associations with Shabbat by the talmudic rabbis. He continues with the non-Jewish recognition of this affinity, and its weaponization for anti-Semitic purposes.

In “Jews, Schmaltz, and Crisco in the Age of Industrial Food,” Rachel B. Gross explores American Jewry’s coming-of-age at the time of food’s mass production.

Even more intriguing—considering how quickly the details have been forgotten despite the subject’s relative recency—is Zev Eleff’s “The Search for Religious Authenticity and the Case of Passover Peanut Oil.” As a study of “lived religion,” Eleff highlights how peanut oil was widely accepted for Passover use by most Ashkenazim until the current century, with OU certification until 2001, and not included in the “forbidden by custom” category of kitniyot. The reversal, he posits, grew out of the “perceived authenticity” of those who were more stringent, banning its use on Passover

Finally, in a prime example of food revealing culture, Katalin Franciska Rac reveals “How Shabbat Cholent Became a Secular Hungarian Favorite.” Surprisingly, sólet (as the stew is known in Hungary) is widely eaten by non-Jewish Hungarians, often including pork products, and not specifically as a dish for the Sabbath (either theirs, on Sunday, nor that of the Jews the day before). Rac succinctly shows how this reflects the historic integration of Jews into wider Hungarian society, and the two-way street of culinary influence between the communities.

Read more at Tradition

More about: Halakhah, Hungarian Jewry, Jewish food, Kashrut


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria